Many of our bell-ringing customs date back to mediaeval England (the country in which change ringing began), when bells were important community messengers. During that period bells were primarily used as time keepers to announce the opening and closing of the town gates and a signal to damp down the fire and retire to bed. They were also used to announce the times of worship and to indicate the important stages the service had reached for those unable to attend church.

Today, bells are rung for a multitude of occasions and for many different reasons. These occasions for ringing can be broadly classified as:

  • Church services
  • Local, civic and national events, celebrations and commemorations
  • Weddings and funerals
  • Personal events such as: birthdays, anniversaries, births, graduations, etc.
  • For practice and learning
  • Ringer’s recreation: outings, peals, quarter peals, etc.

When organising ringing for a special occasion or event it is important to ensure that the owner or custodian of the tower in which the bells are hung approves of the reason for the ringing, e.g. a church authority may not wish for its bells to be associated with some secular events or occasions.

This page describes common ringing formats for different occasions.


Local customs vary as to when bells are rung for weddings. In many towers they are rung both before and after the wedding ceremony, usually for about 15-20 minutes at both ends of the service. In other towers the bells are only used to ring the bride and groom out of their wedding ceremony.

In some towers it used to be the custom to 'fire' the bells (go from ringing rounds to sounding all the bells at once about ten times and then straight back into rounds) several times after the service. This custom seems to have died out in most places, probably because it is quite difficult to ‘fire’ bells accurately.


Traditionally, ringing for the dead was divided into three parts, the passing bell, the death knell, and the corpse bell.

The Passing Bell was rung to warn of an impending death. The Death Knell was then rung as soon as possible after the death. Finally, the Corpse Bell was tolled at the time of the funeral. This final bell is the one most generally still in use today and consists of very slow tolling (often one blow every 30 seconds), often the number of blows rung represents the age of the deceased.

Other commemorative ringing for the departed can either be fully open, 'in celebration of the life' of the deceased person, or half-muffled 'in memory'.

The Death of a Monarch

There is an official protocol in place in the event of the death of the monarch of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries. It covers the activities for each day from when the Royal death is announced (Day 0) through to Day+10 when the state funeral will take place. This guidance sets out the how bell ringing plays its part throughout the process and is formulated in consultation with The Royal Household and Lambeth Palace. Circumstances in Australia and New Zealand may differ from those in the United Kingdom.

The ringing protocol applying following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II can be found here.

Ringing in the New Year

Many towers like to celebrate the coming of the New Year with ringing. The traditional way of doing this is to ring the bells half-muffled up until a little while before midnight on New Year’s Eve (this represents the departure of the old year). After taking the muffles off, 12 blows are rung on the tenor bell at exactly midnight, immediately followed by rounds, in some places 'firing', and other ringing – do not go on too long with the ringing after midnight; some of your neighbours may be wanting to sleep rather than party!

If it is not practical or safe to take muffles off whilst the bells are up, then start the ringing on the stroke of midnight with twelve blows on the tenor and continue as above.

ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day Ringing

Many towers ring half-muffled on both ANZAC and Remembrance Days, fitting their timing around various civic ceremonies so as not to disturb them.

Other Special Occasions

For most other special occasions, the amount of ringing and timings will depend on the type and circumstances of the event being rung for.

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The original material on this page was provided by Richard Offen. If you have contributions, please send them to the

Ringing for the Public

two ringers fitting a muffle to a bell
Ringers fitting a muffle to a bell